Eight tricks for showing skin subtly yet seductively this summer

Demi Moore Cannes
Demi Moore shows us how to show skin elegantly - German Select

Have you been outraged/titillated/bored by the onslaught of “naked” dresses that assaulted our eyeballs at the Met Ball and recent TV BAFTAs?

It doesn’t matter. Move on. The Cannes Film Festival has unexpectedly saved all our sanity, dishing up daily lessons in How To Dress Provocatively Without Looking as Though You’ve Lost Your Mind (and your underwear).

Yes, Cannes. The heaving fleshpot where even in the 1950s, actresses “accidentally” lost their bikini tops in the waves so that the battalions of paparazzi who just happened to be loitering nearby could get what they came for. This year, the festival has uncharacteristically opted for (mostly) understated classiness.

Here’s what I think we can all feel: relief. Even those of us who like to come across as modern and non-judgy can rejoice that our secret judgy instincts were probably right all along. The world has swung on its axes and swung back again. Going out in a cobweb with nothing on underneath, or, possibly worse, with the wrong bra underneath, is so last month.

This doesn’t mean we should dress as if it’s Salem 1692.  Not revealing any bare skin at all is actually very aging. And rather hot. It’s almost summer (allegedly),let’s enjoy it.

With that in mind, here are the skin-baring style notes worthy of your attention from the Cote d’Azur:

Less is Moore

Demi and Julianne to be precise. I hear you from afar – Demi may appear to have had a chihuahua grafted onto her torso. But as Hollywood celebrities go, she looks amazing and with her stylist, Brad Goreski, has played a blinder at Cannes. What has she revealed, skin wise? Smooth décolletage for one thing and some exceptionally toned thighs.

Demi Moore Cannes
Demi's smooth décolletage (above and below) - Getty Images Europe
Demi Moore Cannes
Demi Moore Cannes

How is said flesh so smooth when she’s so tanned? Either the tan is from a bottle, or she’s having weekly shots of Profhilo (injections of hyaluronic acid). Profhilo, although marketed as light touch tweakment, is not for the faint hearted. The injections can be painful and frankly regular moisturising can also work wonders – Dove is fine. Add a light dusting of highlighter to the tips of shoulders and clavicle – RMS Beauty ReDimension Hydra Dew Luminiser, £40, is lovely and properly pressed into the skin with a brush, very subtle, so blend, blend, blend for some youthful radiance.  Demi has also availed herself of some stunning necklaces which would offset any age spots or crepiness. I actually like age spots and crepiness – physical souvenirs of good times. Don’t diss them. Or if you must diss them, find something else to not diss.

Julianne Moore in off-shoulder green dress Cannes
'Baring shoulders is a smart move as these are just about the last thing on the body to succumb to gravity', says Armstrong - FilmMagic

Shoulders for instance, which Moore is just one of many (including Carla Bruni) who has also been more than generous in sharing with us.  Baring shoulders is a smart move as these are just about the last thing on the body to succumb to gravity. It’s also  why peasant blouses are wasted on the young since they can merrily flash everything else. Demi and Julianne have  put the effort in (pilates, weights, you name it) so it would be silly not to flaunt it.

At one point Demi almost veered into nude dress territory, and, in a strange parallel universe, where all your old values are constantly being knocked for six, it kind of worked. Want to know why? She wore her naked dress with the right bra and knickers. And she’s Demi Moore.

Asymmetric necklines have a multitude of plusses

If you’re wearing a long, voluminous column, they add interest and definition and make necks look longer. A big bow at the shoulder, or a floaty cape like Salma Hayek’s, will help shield the tops of your arms, if that’s your bug bear.

Salma Hayek
Go asymmetrical, like Salma Hayek

Mutton is meaningless

When you’re a woman of a certain age (or let’s say uncertain, because why should you have to make a song and dance about it?) there will always be someone – generally of the male persuasion, or your child – who will raise an eyebrow if you so much as bare an ankle, and mime the words “mutton”. Heaven forfend you wear a skirt above the knee. But if your legs are your best feature (be honest, are they?), then get them out.

Charlotte Gainsbourg and Anthony Vaccarello
Short skirts with tights is a chic way to show some leg, a la Charlotte Gainsbourg

Remember two things, there are ways to reveal without baring flesh. In winter, short skirts with tights, or perhaps skinny trousers or capris. And this: children often like their mothers to dress like Mary Poppins, even when said children are 40. Get them to take it up with their shrinks, not you.

Undo some buttons

While wearing a sheer Saint Laurent dress without even a thong underneath might be considered “pushing it” in your 70s, dressing like you have a life threatening sunlight allergy is no fun for anyone.  If none of this comes naturally, start gently.  Push up your sleeves. Go mad and show off your ankles. And your toe cleavage. Avail yourself of those little round things on your blouse. I refer to buttons.

A French colleague recently came up to me and unbuttoned the third one on my shirt. This wasn’t a come on. Merely a lesson in how French women approach sexiness. Not as a once a year activity where you metaphorically bash everyone over the head with the skimpiness of your outfit, but a daily practice of artful, relaxed seduction.

Andie MacDowell
Unbuttoned: Andie MacDowell - GC Images

Six degrees of lace

There are so many kinds of lace, from the frothiest, sheerest cobwebs to broderie anglaise, which isn’t really lace at all, but falls into the category because it does what all good lace does: provide a sense of delightful summery airiness, while not necessarily revealing any skin. It’s gorgeous, and a basic human right.  See also, Sienna Miller’s diaphonous, sheer Chloe gown, revealing but also not revealing at all.

Sienna Miller in diaphanous lace
Sienna Miller in diaphanous lace - WireImage
Barbara Palvin in black
Barbara Palvin in black - FilmMagic

Assuming you’re not Liz Hurley, how much cleavage is “too much” cleavage?

This is so variable that ultimately only you and a trusted dermatologist can make the call. A good bra can do wonders, but it is not a miracle worker. That said, a deepish v-neckline, like Greta Gerwig’s pale pink Gucci, or Meryl Streep’s drape-front ivory column is slimming, drawing the eye inwards, towards the waist.

Greta Gerwig shows us how to do cleavage elegantly, in pink Gucci
Greta Gerwig shows us how to do cleavage elegantly, in pink Gucci - Getty Images Europe
Meryl Streep's drape-front column is slimming
Meryl Streep's drape-front column is slimming - WireImage

Try slipping a tuxedo jacket over a halter neck. Or wear it over nothing but a bra, like Jane Fonda in black Elie Saab. The androgyny makes it all look more sophisticated. A sheer body that has beautiful lace work over all the strategic points can also look sophisticated under a jacket.

Jane Fonda
Or try slipping on a flattering tuxedo jacket, like Jane Fonda - WireImage

Gold and silver can (almost) look like bare skin

Use colour, metallics and jewellery to throw light onto your face. One of the purposes of revealing skin is to break up slabs of black, which can be draining. Of course you could avoid wearing black? A dress in a luscious shade and floaty fabric, like Trudie Styler’s cobalt number, can do all the work of a much skimpier style without revealing anything you don’t want to.

Trudie Styler in cobalt
Trudie Styler in cobalt - Getty Images Europe

Metallics are another clever way to create the impression of youthful skin – witness this full cover, glowy Louis Vuitton dress on Cate Blanchett. But if black’s your thing, Catherine Deneuve’s Chanel jewel-smothered trouser suit is all about clever coverage – and flashing some elegant wrist, an underestimated seduction zone.

Cate Blanchett
All that glitters: Cate Blanchett - FilmMagic
All black: Catherine Deneuve in Chanel
All black: Catherine Deneuve in Chanel - Corbis Entertainment

A good back shouldn’t go to waste

You’ll need a bra like Wonderbra’s Ultimate Backless bra, £49 and someone to check you haven’t got any blackheads/moles with forestry sprouting out of them, ideally, some muscle tone and perhaps a lariat necklace you can wear backwards. Effortful, but rewarding.

Diane Kruger
Diane Kruger - WireImage

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